Apolo Kivebulaya of Uganda

Apostle to the Pygmies,
Priest and Missionary

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Apolo Kivebulaya of Uganda
Apostle to the Pygmies,
Priest and Missionary

Picture courtesy of forallsaints.wordpress.com

Apolo's birth name was Waswa Munubi. He grew up the son of peasants who apprenticed him to a witch doctor, but when he discovered the man tricking people out of their possessions, he left him to learn about Islam, which had been recently brought to the chief Kabaka Mutesa's court by Arab traders.

When he was 13 yrs, H. M. Stanley, who had discovered David Livingstone in 1872, paid a visit to Mutesa's court and persuaded the chief to begin "reading" in the Christian religion. The chief was probably more impressed with Stanley's guns than with his Bible, for Mutesa had already parted ways with the Arabs and now needed protection. But the chief's welcome opened the door for his people to embrace Christianity. Missionary, Alexander MacKay, arrived in 1878. Apolo credits MacKay with planting seeds of belief in his life. Mackay organized a church, and members of the chief's court began attending his classes.

Apolo was baptised, choosing his name Apolo (Apollos) on On 27 January 1895. His father had chosen a bride for him, but she died, and Apolo never married. It was about this time he returned to Toro as a teacher, that he became known as Kivebulaya (“the thing from Britain”) because of the red military jacket he loved wearing.

He worked very hard in the Toro district and then across the Rift Valley at Mboga. He encountered consider­able opposition, including a false accusation of murder. About this time Apolo had a powerful spiritual experience, in which he heard Christ say, “I am Jesus Christ. Preach to my people. Do not be afraid.” From this point on Apolo was convinced of his call and developed a profound joy in the gospel that others found infectious.

Apolo became a powerful missionary presence. He was ordained deacon in 1900 and priest in 1903. For 15 years he was the real pastor to the Christians in Toro, which he traversed endlessly on foot, till he bought a bicycle in 1913. He encouraged and gave single-minded devotion and energy, to the church and a meticu­lous care over worship, which he conducted with great attention to its beauty.

In the meantime Mboga had declined, and in 1915 Apolo asked to be sent there. He rebuilt the church and established the mission work to the Pygmy tribes to the west, to which he was to devote much of the rest of his life. Apolo heard God’s call, “Go and preach in the forest, because I am with you.” He was fearless in the face of danger and won the trust of the Pygmy people. He undertook the translation of Mark’s Gospel into one of the Pygmy languages. He would be saddened at what has become of the Pygmies.

In 1922 Apolo was made a canon in the Church of Uganda. In 1927 he became vice-president of the CMS in Uganda. He had seen the church there grow from one congregation of 200 in 1877 to 185,000 in 2,000 congregations 50 years later. Apolo never slackened his pace till illness overtook him early in 1933. He is honoured as the outstanding figure of the first half-century of the Ugandan church. The first collect is based on one of his own prayers.

BORN: 1864, Kiwanda, Buganda, Uganda, Africa.

DIED: 30 May 1933, Mboga, Tanzania, Africa.